A SOB Story – Save our Bookies – Football & Racing News – Star Sports

I have been very lucky to spend much of my adult life in and around the betting ring and bookmakers on course…

I can’t keep repeating what I write in my blogs because I’ll be in danger of plagiarising myself, but I’ll repeat this story in a condensed fashion one more time.

The very first time I worked for a bookmaker, was on the floor for the legend that was Jack Lynn on course at a Taunton evening meeting. I was very thrilled to be doing so, it was my dream to be involved full-time in racing. I only joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers because my mum married a bit of a dickhead and nobody really went backpacking to get away much in those days. The idea of the Army seemed a bit like a gap year, just three years longer and in khaki. I’m very glad I joined, and also that I left, all that time I wanted to be involved with racing.

Anyway, there I was, I’d made the boss £50 with the first bit of info I’d given him and was basking in the glory that Jack and Roy were very pleased. I was regular floorman Dave Sims’ desperate replacement so he could play skittles. I was standing in the ring no doubt grinning to myself, when John Hourihane’s clerk Johnny Holland came up to me, introduced himself, welcomed me to the betting ring, then added ‘You’ve come in too late, the game’s gone.’

The game wasn’t gone, sadly Johnny is, but his son Christian of whom he was very proud stands under his own name in Wales and bigger meetings further afield. The game certainly has changed a lot though. We went from tic-tac to walkie talkies, chalk which was mostly old hat when I started, though Dave Pipe appeared to like eating it, to marker pens to lightboards. From dead man’s shoes to extended supplementary list then buying and selling and the carnage that followed. The good old days, at least from the bookmakers’ perspective, of ‘betting well’ and not being ashamed of it to firms in top pitches pricing up to an opening show of not much more than 1% a runner.

Oh, and then there’s the lack of any off-course money coming into the ring to bolster the business, no SP returned from the track and the rise of the machines, or betting exchanges. Then there’s that huge chasm left when John McCririck passed away.

Since he left us, the betting ring has gone from the jungle and epicentre of the racecourse to somewhere the mainstream TV appears to wish didn’t exist and rarely want to mention. If you are old enough to remember, mega rich punters having it on all down the line and backing a horse ‘off the boards’ was something we at home loved to hear about, it was the glamour of the course, where fortunes could be won and lost on a head-bobbing battle on the turf.

Big bets were collected and reported in the racing press, the highlight of the results section for many people. There’s none of that anymore, in some quarters I’m told they consider the reporting of big bets ‘obscene’ ‘when people can’t afford to heat their houses’. Never mind that the horses that they are betting on are often worth 100x the biggest bet that could be noted on course these days. Interviewing rich people owning horses worth money that could feed a small nation is OK, just not mentioning betting on them?

It’s not because the punters aren’t interested, they are, they are also interested in the bookies and the betting ring. Sadly, those bookies and the betting ring they inhabit are under pressure from so many angles.

For a punter to get to the bookies, depending on the course, they have to run the gauntlet of alternative betting opportunities. If they get past them without having their wager first they might well be ask to park their beer, banned from near the bookies. Then there’s the increasing cashless society, do racegoers carry cash anymore, especially as a lot of courses have continued to be cashless after Covid?

If they don’t have any readies can they get some to bet with the bookies? Top marks to Cheltenham, they provided cash machines all over the course for the November meeting but not all make it that easy.

The bookmakers are doing their best to cater for the increasing number of punters who want to swipe a card to bet but it often makes it harder to field as much money as they did with cash, but bigger punters find it much more convenient to bet that way so there pros and cons.

The real squeeze though, it’s the expenses the bookmakers have to pay. Despite business generally being a fraction of what it was a decade ago, their costs have rocketed. Would you be surprised to learn that bookmakers and their staff have to pay to get into a racecourse to work? Does anyone else who is working pay to get in? They’d have to pay fortunes for their kit, lightboards, computers, back in the 1980’s all Stephen Little needed to work a multi-million pound business was a field book, pencil, name board and a huge pair of bollocks. Then there’s staff wages, accommodation, a round of racecourse coffees, it goes on and on.

The betting ring needs to be nurtured and supported as part of the rich heritage UK racing enjoys. Bookmakers that have expenses of over £2000 to bet in the second row of a three-day festival where even the front row pitches struggle to take a grand a race let alone win, can’t afford to keep coming.

Maybe somewhere that’s the idea, just make life so hard for family bookmaking businesses that they just won’t turn up.

If that was someone’s lightbulb moment, please rethink, the bookmakers are still a huge draw for racegoers coming to enjoy a day at the races. To lose them would be a tragic mistake, how about rather than ignoring the plight of the racecourse layer, they are helped not hindered, cut their exes would be a great start.

On-course bookmakers vanishing like Dave Pipe’s chalk from British racecourses would be beyond tragic, not just for racegoers but ultimately the industry itself. Please don’t just let it happen before I’m proved right, it’ll be too late by then.


Views of authors do not necessarily represent views of Star Sports Bookmakers.

Simon Nott is author of: Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring




Author: Eugene Morris